Running a successful event – the power of project management

A combination of inspirational ideas, creativity and planning led to the delivery of two successful events at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. Helen Lane explains.

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Creating events designed to encourage female students to engage with technology

It's a beautiful spring day in the heart of New York City and over sixty students have come to the library to research and write articles in their free time. No assignment is due. Nothing is being graded. They have come to be part of something larger that inspires them - the very first International Women’s Day Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to take place at the Fashion Institute of Technology. A few days earlier as many also eschewed the sunshine to hear three speakers from the design-technology industries. You can see a short video about our two events here.

As one of the organisers of these events I couldn't be more proud of our success and was thrilled when I was given the chance to speak about our Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the Internet Library International conference in October of this year.

What  a fabulous conference it was! I came back from the ILI 2016 totally inspired and energised to try new things. I am absolutely sure that I am not the only one who feels this way. I have been madly pinning makerspace ideas to my Pinterest, researching the possibilities of gamifying our orientation, and as soon as I learned that our IT department was vetting the use of beacons on campus, I communicated my strong interest in future beacon projects (fade in Katy Perry's "Roar".)  

Ideas emerge

It is good to remind myself of why I was asked to speak at the conference in the first place; that inspiration and creativity are not enough. I had an incredible partner, Stephenie Futch, the commitment and support of the FIT Diversity Council, and a cause that students could get behind. Most of all, however, Stephenie and I had a solid plan of action.

Like many successful initiatives, the idea to host an edit-a-thon started with a conversation between like-minded people. Early 2015 found Stephenie and myself in the familiar routine of a spring semester Student Resources Fair, she at IT booth and I representing the Library. When a colleague of mine introduced herself to Stephenie, the talk soon turned to the lack of technological competencies among our (so-called born digital) female students and what to do about it. 

Two ideas emerged from that conversation. One was to host a symposium of women in the design-tech industries. Another was to host a Wikipedia edit-a-thon that would enable our students to have hands-on experience with technology while working to improve the record on women in the design and technology fields.

Getting serious with project management

It all could have ended when the conversation ended, as so often is the case with creative ideas. That it didn’t owes everything to what we did next. We put together a serious project management implementation plan. If you’re unfamiliar with formalized project management theory and practice, it’s probably because you have real interests like bonsai or gourmet cooking. It’s pretty dry stuff but it is super important if you want to get big things done.

A basic project implementation plan should include the following -  

  • A Project Proposal or Charter. This document describes the purpose of the project, lists the key stakeholders, outlines a basic budget, estimates work hours, establishes a timeline, identifies risks and constraints, and defines success criteria
  • Stakeholders Register. This is a ranked and annotated list of everyone who is needed to complete the project, might be affected by the project or who is the target of the project.
  • A Communication Plan. The communication establishes the means and frequency of communication between team members and outlines what needs to be communicated to with stakeholders.
  • A Task Management Plan. This is where you decided on a vehicle or method for task tracking and review, such as a wiki, meeting schedule or project management software platform

You next steps are to 1. ) stick to the plan as closely as possible, 2. ) review and amend your plan as required and 3.) assess your project when completed.

To be frank, Stephenie and I were only moderately thorough about some of these next steps. While we certainly did amend our initial plan and stakeholders list, we didn’t actually go back and edit the original document. We’re just not that OCD. We did, however, track all communications, plan changes and tasks using our chosen PM platform, BaseCamp. This basic approach worked so well for us that I am more than happy to share the template we used for the Implementation Plan as well as a matrix for assessing stakeholder interest. (Please note, these are shared documents and you should make your own copies before using them.)  Enjoy!  

Suggested reading

If you would like to learn more about theories and practices of project management, here are some suggested sites and resources.

Carpenter, Julie. 2011. Project Management in Libraries, Archives and Museums: Working with Government and Other External Partners. Oxford: Chandos.

Darnall, Russell. 2016. Project Management From Simple to Complex. Accessed November 8. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupid?key=olbp51240.

“PMI Project Management Principles.” Leadership & Management. http://www.slideshare.net/tltiede/pmi-project-management-principles.

Vinopal, Jennifer. 2012. “Project Portfolio Management for Academic Libraries: A Gentle Introduction.” College & Research Libraries 73 (4): 379–89. doi:10.5860/crl-277.